5 Reasons Why Telephone Interviewing May Be Worth the Investment for Your Research

By the Editors

Some market researchers have been predicting the demise of telephone research, due to online research’s cost and speed advantages. While telephone research is declining, mostly because computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) surveys can be more expensive and slower than online – this methodology still has some unique and powerful advantages.

Here are 5 reasons why telephone research may be the best choice for your research:

1. Access to hard-to-find populations. Some audiences, particularly B2B targets, are hard to locate and even harder to pin down. Executives travel often. Other professionals such as mechanics, sales people, farmers or engineers may be working in the field, away from mobile devices or desktop computers where they’d fill out an online survey. Low-incidence B2B targets often don’t have much time during their work days to participate in panels or focus groups, and even if they do, their participation may fall to the bottom of their priorities list.

Phone interviewing using highly trained interviewers enables companies to identify and gain direct access to these hard-to-reach targets. Trained interviewers are skilled at getting past gatekeepers, and gaining the trust of participants. They are trained to be sensitive to limited time availability and know when to suggest a call back at a later, more convenient time.

For consumer studies, CATI surveys allow access to hyper-local markets and demographic groups where internet access has a lower penetration (such as, in the US, Spanish-dominant households, or in other countries, lower income or older populations).

2. Richer data. Skilled interviewers can pull insights from participants that self-completion surveys can’t; their precise communication and active listening skills can be especially valuable in customer satisfaction (CSAT) studies. Expert telephone interviewers know how to speak professionally with customers, professionals, and executives in a variety of specialized fields and sectors like retail, legal, health, energy, manufacturing, and Fortune 500 companies. A skilled interviewer creates a rapport with participants, evoking opinions from them quickly. (Indeed, a report from American Association for Public Opinion Research found that overall, phone interviewers are more successful than machines at getting complete data from respondents on the phone). Live interviews usually take more time, but they can yield deeper insights that supplement quantitative data.

 In-depth interviews as a particular type of telephone research which takes the form of guided conversations. This lightly structured, two-way dialogue provides high-quality qualitative data and many insights per participant. It may be less expensive than setting up a focus group and recruiting participants, and opens up a much wider pool of potential participants.

Interviewers know how to follow a conversation where it goes and gather strategic insights that weren’t planned for in the initial questions. Often, these unexpected responses from participants can spark innovation or changes in business strategy. B2B respondents tend to pass their business service complaints along less frequently than consumers do so a live interview can result in richer feedback particularly for a B2B study.  Adept interviewers listen carefully and draw out feedback and insights that an online survey or automated call might miss.

3. Better completion rates. Interviewers must follow the script precisely to ensure each question is asked as it was written. But they can also offer clarification and encouragement to the respondent and therefore deliver higher completion rates than other methodologies. In an online survey, the participant who is confused by a question or does not think the question applies to them, may quite the survey. A live interviewers can often turn an “incomplete” into a completed interviewer.

4. Better population coverage. Online panels are in themselves a sample because even very large online panels are likely to include less than 5% of the total population of the US. Telephone interviewing, in contrast, can reach the vast majority of the population via landline and mobile samples. This allows researchers to successfully reach very small geographies or very low incidence populations.

Telephone methodology also allows for random sample selection, calculation of contact and completion rates, margins of error and confidence levels. These statistics cannot be calculated in the same way in an online panel environment since there is no known population frame (i.e no database of emails or email components similar to area codes and working blocks for phone numbers, which can be used to create a randomly-selected sample.) These things are important for some government, academic research and legal research, and for results to be accepted in some journals.

5. Unique contribution to multi-mode approach. Telephone research can increase the power of the faster and less expensive online methodology, by helping to ensure that the online survey is put in front of the right people. Telephone samples can be used to recruit for a study which will be carried out online, or, conversely, an in-depth, in-person interview can be done with people who were recruited online by e-mail, SMS or app-based alerts. When combined with other modes, phone interviewing can provide rich insights that connect the dots pulled from other data.

To learn more about CATI telephone research advantages, methodology, and examples of how to use CATI alone or as part of a multimode approach, click here to read: